Book Review: In Strangers’ Houses by Elizabeth Mundy

In Strangers' HousesAbout the Book

There are some crimes you can’t sweep under the carpet . . .

Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner working in London, knows all too well about cleaning up other people’s messes. When her friend Timea disappears, she suspects one of her clients is to blame. However, the police don’t share her suspicions and it is left to Lena to turn sleuth and find her friend.

Searching through their houses as she scrubs their floors, Lena desperately tries to find out what has happened. Only Cartwright, a police constable new to the job, believes that this will lead to the truth – and together they begin to uncover more of Islington’s seedy underbelly than they bargained for.

But Lena soon discovers it’s not just her clients who have secrets. And as she begins to unravel Timea’s past she starts to wonder if she really knew her friend at all.

Format: ebook, paperback (272 pp.)      Publisher: Constable
Published: 8th February 2018                  Genre: Mystery

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My Review

In Hungarian cleaner Lena Szarka, the author has come up with a great premise for a detective because of course cleaners have unparalleled access to the homes of their clients.  They learn things – possibly intimate things – about their clients from the way they keep their houses to what’s in their cupboards.  They can get to know all about their dirty laundry – and I’m not just talking about yesterday’s socks.

Of course, a cleaner may only know their client from their house but if, like Lena, you’re smart and observant, there’s a lot you can tell about someone from their home. There’s a great scene in the book where Lena, in the manner of Sherlock Holmes, is able to deduce a long list of facts about a client she’s never met just from their flat.

“It is a woman, “ said Lena.  “She is thin and short. With long dark hair But I have seen her hair brush, full of long dark hairs.  Her clothes are size eight.  The trousers have been shortened.  She always wears high heels.”

As someone who employs a cleaner (and always tidies up before they come), I had to laugh at some of the double standards Lena observes in her clients.   For instance, expecting cleaners to clean more thoroughly than we do ourselves. ‘People would never look under the sofa, she’d learnt, unless they’d hired a cleaner.  Then they’d be checking every week.  Lena couldn’t understand it.  If they didn’t want dust in their houses, they shouldn’t live in places built a hundred years ago.’

I liked the cast of supporting characters reflecting the range of immigrants who come to London in search of work from Eastern Europe and beyond.  I have to pick out Greta, Lena’s quite appalling mother as a personal favourite.

I really enjoyed getting to know Lena.  She’s clever, resourceful, perceptive and determined…very determined.  However, her deductions are not always spot on and can send her off on a tangent.  Sometimes there is an innocent explanation, Lena!  However, it’s understandable that she gets caught up in her desire to get to the bottom of her friend’s disappearance, especially when the police initially show little interest.

There were a couple of scenes in the book that I found a bit too melodramatic and which rather stretched credibility but overall I really enjoyed In Strangers’ Houses.  It was a fun read.  If you enjoy it, you’ll be pleased to know Elizabeth is working on a second book in the series due for publication later in 2018.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Little, Brown Book Group in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Engaging, amiable, mystery

Try something similar…Madam Tulip by David Ahern (click here for my review)

Elizabeth MundyAbout the Author

Elizabeth Mundy’s grandmother was a Hungarian immigrant to America who raised five children on a chicken farm in Indiana. An English Literature graduate from Edinburgh University, Elizabeth is a marketing director for an investment firm and lives in London with her messy husband and baby son. In Strangers’ Houses is her debut novel and the first in the Lena Szarka mystery series.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: In Strangers’ Houses by Elizabeth Mundy

    1. I guess I meant by that there’s little violence, sex or bad language. And there is humour. But you may be right that it’s a bit too realistic to truly meet the definition of cosy. I’ll happily admit I’m not an expert on that genre. I don’t want to mislead anyone so I might delete that bit of my review.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That’s a good comment, and while I’d agree with Cathy that IN STRANGERS’ HOUSES is a little cosy, it is a very subjective topic for a novel like this. The book does deal with some serious subjects, but there’s no gore, little violence (considering it’s a murder mystery) and as Cathy says, I’ve tried to include some humour.
      It’s been described as ‘cosy crime with a gritty urban edge’, which I quite like.

      If you get a chance to read it I’d love to know what you think.

      Liked by 2 people

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